Auto magnate Norman Braman is withdrawing from the suit challenging voter approval of the SkyRise Miami observation tower, leaving Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado as the sole plaintiff.
In a letter, Braman's lawyer said the withdrawal was designed to clean up the issue of legal standing, since the suit targets a 2014 referendum held in the city of Miami that approved the 1,000-foot waterfront tower. Regalado, a two-term school board member and daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, lives in the city and voted in the Aug. 26, 2014, referendum. Braman lives in Indian Creek.
“Basically, I withdrew from it so we could have a speedy adjudication and not waste a lot of time on whether I have standing or not,” Braman said. “Raquel Regalado is still there, and they do not question her standing.”
J.C. Planas, the elections lawyer Miami hired to represent the city in the suit, said the withdrawal vindicates the argument he's been making in court pleadings that Braman shouldn't be allowed to sue over the election.
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“We have continuously argued that it is common sense that only registered voters in the City of Miami would have standing to contest an election in the City,” Planas said in a statement. “We are happy that the Plaintiffs finally agreed with us.”
The lawsuit claims the ballot language describing SkyRise as a “privately funded” project was violated when Miami-Dade County approved a $9 million grant for the venture several months later. County and city lawyers argued SkyRise's pursuit of non-city funds was public knowledge before the election, and that Regalado's suit is improperly seeking to overturn a legitimate referendum.
Raquel Regalado is still there, and they do not question her standing.
Braman said he will continue to foot all the legal bills for the lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The litigation has paralleled Regalado’s bid to unseat Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016, with Braman her top campaign donor. Gimenez championed the $9 million SkyRise grant.
Braman’s exit as a plaintiff, announced in a Tuesday letter by Braman lawyer Enrique Arana, is the latest retrenchment in the suit. In early September, Regalado and Braman dropped Miami-Dade as a defendant by eliminating two of three counts included in the suit when they filed it in February.
In a statement Wednesday, Skyrise developer Jeff Berkowitz accused Braman of reneging on a promise of not objecting to the project. The developer said he went to Braman’s office in April 2014 and briefed him on his vision for SkyRise, including his pursuit of state money slated to pay for parking, roadwork and other expenses tied to converting part of the Bayside Marketplace property into the planned tourist attraction.
“He gave me his personal assurance at that time that he would not oppose the project . . . a promise that Mr. Braman reneged on when he joined Raquel Regalado to bring and to fund this lawsuit,” Berkowitz said. “This lawsuit has been a tremendous waste of taxpayers’ monies and has cost the City of Miami tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in fighting this lawsuit and in delaying both a $10,000,000 payment to the City, which is now suspended in escrow pending final resolution of the suit, as well as the promised redevelopment of Bayside.”
The suit seeks a new referendum on the SkyRise project, and puts Regalado in the position of suing the city her father leads. In hiring Planas, Miami cited the potential conflict of having staff lawyers fighting the mayor’s daughter.
While he campaigned for SkyRise during the referendum, Mayor Regalado said he wasn’t aware of Berkowitz’s pursuit of county funds and said he was “very proud” of his daughter’s suit.
On Tuesday, Raquel Regalado said she wants a quick resolution of the lawsuit so that a new referendum could be tacked onto the ballot during the 2016 election cycle and the expense of a special election can be avoided.
“I don’t want this to cost Miami anything,” she said. “There is plenty of time to do this within already scheduled elections.”
This article was updated to correct a description of developer Jeff Berkowitz’s statement regarding his meeting with Norman Braman before the August 2014 referendum. SkyRise lobbyist Brian May said Berkowitz only discussed his pursuit of state economic-grant dollars with Braman, not county money. Braman confirmed the description of the meeting.